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IBAHRI and Anti-Torture Initiative call for Turkey to quash Dr Sebnem Korur Fincanci’s prison sentence

Wednesday 30 January 2019

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and the Anti-Torture Initiative (ATI) have sent an open letter to Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, condemning the criminal proceedings brought against prominent human rights defender Dr Sebnem Korur Fincanci, as well as the conviction and sentencing of her to two years and six month’s imprisonment.

The letter, signed by IBAHRI Co-Chairs The Honorary Michael Kirby AC CMG and Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc, together with the Director of the Anti-Torture Initiative, Juan E Méndez, states: ‘We urge your Excellency to ensure that Turkey’s authorities uphold their international human rights obligations and the rule of law by dropping all charges related to Dr Fincanci’s human rights advocacy.

Dr Fincanci is President of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey – an organisation committed to treating torture survivors and documenting human rights violations – and a world-renowned expert on torture. She is also a co-author of the Istanbul Protocol, an instrument providing guidelines on the international standards for forensic investigations of torture. It is thought she has been targeted because of her high profile and international and domestic human rights activism, having notably signed a peace petition in 2016 titled ‘We will not be a party to this crime’.

The petition, created by the Academics for Peace Initiative, contained pointed criticism of Turkish security forces and called on Turkish officials to discontinue violence against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in southeast Turkey, stating: ‘We, as academics and researchers working on and/or in Turkey, declare that we will not be a party to this massacre by remaining silent and demand an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the state. We will continue advocacy with political parties, the parliament, and international public opinion until our demands are met.

Turkish officials responded to the petition by filing criminal charges against around 430 of the petition’s signatories, including Dr Fincanci. Though more than 60 academics were sentenced to a year and a half or less of imprisonment, with most of the sentences suspended, Dr Fincanci received a much heavier sentence of two and a half years of imprisonment. An appeal has been filed before the Turkish Regional High Court.

The IBAHRI and ATI concluded their letter to President Erdogan with: ‘We call on your Excellency to encourage the three branches of government to implement the necessary measures within their respective powers to uphold international human rights obligations and the rule of law. We would be grateful to receive your assurances that you have received our letter and that our concerns will be addressed as a matter of urgency.


Notes to the Editor

  1. A joint submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers highlights successive legislative and constitutional reforms that have significantly weakened the rule of law in Turkey. Newly acquired powers enable the government to interfere with the judiciary and the legal profession and arrest those who have voiced opposition against actions taken by the State.
  2. The International Bar Association (IBA), established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Through its global membership of individual lawyers, law firms, bar associations and law societies it influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington DC, United States, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands.

    The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  3. The Anti-Torture Initiative (ATI) is a core project of the American University Washington College of Law (WCL) Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. The ATI was set up in 2011 with the purpose of expanding the reach and practical implementation of the work of former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, and Professor of Human Rights Law in Residence at WCL, Juan E Méndez.

    The ATI has played a key role in supporting the development of norms, providing technical assistance and capacity building, and promoting the implementation of reforms and best practices in different jurisdictions. During the former Special Rapporteur’s tenure from 2011 to November 2016, the ATI worked vigorously to complement his activities, particularly in the areas of follow-up, implementation and dissemination. Since 2016, the ATI has continued its mission by devising programmatic and country-specific activities in key thematic areas, including solitary confinement, investigative interviewing, gender and torture, and the Istanbul Protocol.

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